THE BOTTOM LINE
By Scott Burnside, Special to ESPN.com
The names are familiar and the brand-new shiny pieces are alluring, no doubt. But just what kind of team will the Pittsburgh Penguins become? That is the $64 question and the greatest challenge facing second-year coach Ed Olczyk.
Offense: Up front, the Penguins have assembled a veritable who's who of offensive talent, both old and new. There's the venerable captain, Mario Lemieux; the venerable sniper with the bad back, John LeClair; tireless Mark Recchi; gifted Ziggy Palffy; and oh yeah, The Kid, Sidney Crosby. Apart from the obvious bonus of having star-quality players in the lineup, the Penguins' sudden depth should provide a welcome cushion for Crosby as he struggles with enormous expectations in trying to make the significant jump from junior hockey to the NHL. It is a cushion Lemieux did not enjoy when he arrived as the savior of the franchise back in 1984.
It's expected Crosby, who wowed observers with his play during training camp, will start the season playing alongside his landlord (Crosby is staying with Lemieux) and Recchi.
Defense: There is potential here, for sure, in the form of top prospect Ryan Whitney and Brooks Orpik, who will try to mesh with veterans Sergei Gonchar and Lyle Odelein. Dick Tarnstrom led all Penguins in scoring in 2003-04 with 52 points, and he seemed to find nice chemistry with Toronto castoff Ric Jackman, who had 24 points in 25 games after coming over from the Leafs.
Goaltending: Although Marc-Andre Fleury remains the goaltender of the future, the goaltender of the here and now is veteran Jocelyn Thibault, who is likely to surprise some after emerging from the gulag that was the Chicago Blackhawks' organization. Look for him to give the Penguins much-needed support as they find their defensive identity early in the season.
WHERE THEY'LL FINISH
YES If Crosby is allowed to mature at his own pace, he could chip in 60-65 points. If Lemieux stays healthy (a big "if" given Lemieux played just 10 games before pulling the plug on the 2003-04 season) and if the defense doesn't sabotage things, the Penguins will jump from dead last to a playoff berth.
If Lemieux is on the gimp, the team chemistry takes a gigantic hit. If Thibault breaks down or can't find his groove, the team will be in big trouble.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Thibault. Although he went down after just 14 games in the 2003-04 season, the 30-year-old has been a workhorse, logging 60 or more games in four straight seasons for the woeful Blackhawks. He provides the kind of veteran presence that will be key come playoff time, and this is a team that should qualify for the postseason.
Eyebrows were raised when Olczyk made the jump from the broadcast booth to the bench before the last NHL season, but after a dismal start, Olczyk, had the Penguins playing a strong, team-oriented game during the last weeks of the regular season. He has said his style won't change in spite of the dramatic turnover in personnel. If Olczyk is true to his word, the Penguins should flourish.
BEST OFFSEASON MOVE --> WINNING THE LOTTERY
It would be flip to say winning the Crosby lottery, but it's true. From that random event, all other things flowed, including luring Palffy, Gonchar and LeClair. Would free agents have been as likely to sign on with Lemieux and Co. if they'd ended up with Bobby Ryan (with all due respect to the second overall pick)? Uh, no.
WORST OFFSEASON MOVE --> FRONT AND CENTER
If there appears to be a hole in the Penguins' lineup, it's down the middle. A veteran pivot would have been nice. But given the team's other moves, it's a minor quibble.
Dick Tarnstrom, D
Yes, Tarnstrom led the Pens in scoring, with 16 goals and 36 assists.
Sebastien Caron, G
He played the most games out of the Pens' trio (Fleury and Aubin), posting a 9-24-5 record.
“It's going to be nice just to talk to him and talk about some hockey things.”
— Crosby on his relationship with Lemieux